By now, I am sure all of you have heard about, and like me have been horrified by, the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Cairo and Benghazi, the latter of which took the life of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. In times like this, it’s natural to ask questions about why these events took place and what could have been done to prevent them. Unfortunately, as seems increasingly common, the suggested answer from many quarters has been to impose censorship of controversial views. And in this country, the leading voices advocating censorship are coming from American academia.
One of the earliest voices to call for the arrest of the producer of the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube film trailer that has been blamed for the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa was University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Anthea Butler. Professor Butler took to the pages of USA Todayto opine that scenes in the movie that could “incite and inflame viewers” justified his arrest.
University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner took a more scholarly tone but came to a similar conclusion in a widely-read article for Slate, in which he says that other nations “might have a point” when they decide that free speech must “yield to other values and the need for order.” Professor Posner challenges what he calls “the bizarre principle that U.S. foreign policy interests cannot justify any restrictions on speech whatsoever,” apparently in the belief that it is reasonable to punish private Americans for their expression if the government believes that it might adversely affect U.S. foreign relations.
Former Washington Post reporter and University of Baltimore law professor Garrett Epps piled on in The Atlantic, insisting that he would not support “hate speech” prohibitions but assuring readers that “Much of the advanced, democratic world questions” the American view of free speech, “not from ignorance but from painful experience.” Professor Epps cites a (now overturned) 1951 Supreme Court case upholding the conviction of Americans for conspiracy to teach Communism to claim that most Americans’ current inclination towards largely unfettered free speech is a historical anomaly. Not only is this not true, but it’s shocking to see a court case from the days of the Red Scare wheeled out to support censorship in 2012.
Read more at The Fire